“Domestic Cozy” is a term coined by Venkatesh Rao used to describe Gen-Z’s attitude that is “something of a pre-emptive retreat from worldly affairs.” He says while Millennials take pleasure in a “premium mediocre” public display of high cost activities, Gen-Z finds pleasure privately in low-cost domestic activities. He also points to an uptick in young people adopting traditional gender roles and use of the term “trad wife” as a fifth wave feminist pendulum swing after the “me too” era of feminism.

Meanwhile, the internet is full of articles that diagnose housework as a “political problem" (1). Even when the physical labor is divided evenly, many women still complain about the “mental load” that comes with overseeing the chores being done. To admit finding pleasure and empowerment in running the home is counter-feminist to any woman who identifies with the protagonist in this viral web comic from 2017 who recommends “raising children as far away as possible from stereotypes to offer them a fairer future than the one we’ve got.”

According to Joan Didion in her 1972 essay “The women’s movement” the fact that feminist discussion still centers around housework is “yet another instance of that studied resistance to the possibility of political ideas which characterizes national life.” Reading this essay now, it’s amazing how popular phrases like “mental load” echo the sentiments of second wave feminist writings. The persistent demand is for women to shed the role of lead caretaker; only then will we have an equal society. Didion admits that the “litany of trivia'' surrounding housework was crucial to the movement in the beginning, but “such discoveries could be of no use at all if one refused to perceive the larger point, failed to make that inductive leap from the personal to the political” (2).

The truth is society’s undervaluing of maintenance is something that affects not only women and the home, but the entire working class. The anthropologist David Graeber points out that even in a Marxist analysis, “produce” is the key work in the labor theory of value even though “most work isn’t making anything. It’s cleaning and polishing, watching and tending to, helping and nurturing and fixing and otherwise taking care of things. You make a cup once you wash it 1000 times” (3). The paradoxical relationship between how necessary the work is and the rate of pay demonstrates the desperate need for solidarity with unions. It is my hope that by taking pride in housework Gen-Z women will forgo identity politics in favor of a greater class struggle.

Image Credit: @izzyliberti

Image Credit: @izzyliberti

Maintenance gains enormous importance as living conditions decline, people live closer together, and the result is a proliferation of viruses. In the interest of caution in the Covid Era, people engage in more examples of what Venkatesh Rao calls “hard cozy,” rigorous sanitation methods such as “social distancing, hand-washing, and prophylactic “vampire” sneezing.” He doesn’t mention disinfectants, which are used in public spaces abundantly. After reading Joshua Citarella’s essay “Auto Experiment: Hyper Masculinity” I realized, chemical disinfectants should concern anyone on the political spectrum. Online conservatives who subscribe to the belief that plastics release toxic chemicals called phthalates, exposure to which possibly (though not conclusively) may be the cause of a worldwide drop in male fertility, are surely alarmed by the disinfectants used at the gym. Very likely they are some form of quaternary ammonium cations or “Quats,” which studies show cause birth defects and fertility problems in mice whose cages have been in contact with them (4).  Perhaps the desire to limit exposure to these chemicals will bring the gym enthusiasts into solidarity with the gym’s maintenance workers who are also being exposed but at higher levels.

These issues call into question what is a safe way to sanitize and disinfect surfaces? An analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations will send anyone down a confusing spiral. The official advice from the CDC is: cleaning surfaces with soap and water will dissolve the lipid envelope that the Covid 19 virus is encased in. However, in heavily trafficked public spaces or when someone is sick they recommend using a disinfectant (5, 6). At the same time, the EPA warns against the hazardous chemicals in disinfectants, which cause health problems and, when improperly used, can create “superbugs.” The EPA recommends finding a fragrance free disinfectant on List-N with one of the safer active ingredients: Citric acid, Hydrogen Peroxide, L-lactic Acid, Ethanol, Isopropanol, Peroxyacetic acid (7).

With this in mind, I decided to conduct an experiment: I would comb through the EPA’s List-N to find fragrance free products that had one of the active ingredients listed above. The results demonstrate a crisis in misinformation. For example, citric acid, a natural chemical derived from fruit, has 21 results on List-N. I took a closer look at one of the more widely available products, Lysol Bathroom Cleaner. Reading the safety data sheet, I discovered there are 2 inactive ingredients that are considered hazardous to health or the environment which were not included on List-N which gave me pause. I was then curious about the inactive ingredients in cleaning products, which companies are not legally required to list, and discovered the website whatsinproducts.com, which is hosted by the Consumer Product Information Database. When I searched this product I found it contained fragrances and an additional 7 chemicals besides citric acid and water. Clicking on the “advanced tab” revealed more information and I discovered the inactive chemicals carried a number of hazard statements and precautionary statements, including “harmful if inhaled.” I am left to wonder, even with proper ventilation how one would use this product which comes in a spray bottle without inhaling the chemicals, and more importantly why the EPA is recommending products that are so hazardous.

Both hydrogen peroxide and isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) are widely available in their generic form diluted only with water. However, isopropanol even in its diluted form carries a strong odor and is not safe to inhale. Ethanol, not denatured ethanol poisoned with methanol, is sold as vodka or grain alcohol in the United States. However, making a diluted solution of at least 70% alcohol (strong enough to kill CoronaVirus) is only possible with grain alcohol which is illegal in 14 states. Even so, studies show high-concentration alcohol-based disinfectants can weaken adhesives, damage seals, and cause some plastics to swell or harden. 8 This leaves consumer grade hydrogen-peroxide, a weak acid that breaks down into water and oxygen, as the recommended disinfectant according to the San Francisco Asthma Taskforce “based on not having a known association with asthma, not causing any nasal irritation, and being a registered EPA disinfectant with a short dwell time” (8). Dwell time, or contact time, is the appropriate amount of time that a disinfectant has to remain visibly moist on the surface being cleaned to effectively kill the germs, viruses, or bacteria you’re combating (9).

But how often should we be disinfecting? Disinfectants are frequently used improperly, without cleaning off dirt first and without wiping off the product afterwards, rendering the process ineffective and exposing everyone to the residual chemicals. A disinfectant must stay on the surface for at least the recommended dwell time or it will not ‘kill’ all of the germs. This may lead to the creation of “super bugs” (7) Speeding up the labor is characteristic of bad work environments and is ultimately harmful to everyone. Soap and water have been found to remove as much as 99% of germs when microfiber cleaning tools are used, but everyday people use more extreme products. Cleaning workers have an excess risk for occupational asthma (10). Is disinfecting on a regular basis really worth all the negative side effects?

In my 20s, I bought far more cleaning products in the interest of hygiene only to learn not a lot is necessary to maintain a clean home. Gen-Z will make the same mistakes if they adopt the Millennial “premium mediocre” habits I once had. The biggest accounts on Cleaning Tik Tok or “Cleantok” are part and parcel product placement. I have even seen popular videos offering terrible advice such as mixing a slew of chemicals together. Visually these videos may be oddly satisfying, but they ultimately overcomplicate the techniques of maintenance. Over-cleaning demonstrates susceptibility to capital and lack of wisdom for real caretaking. It is an anxious attempt for presentability and a clear conscience. It could be a powerful change to one’s psyche to simply trust soap and water and seek intergenerational guidance instead of living in flux with trendy products. Clean more regularly with harmless products so disinfection, harsh chemicals, and lots of elbow grease are not necessary. Housework is mundane, it’s not trivial, but Joan Didion is right, the personal is not political unless it sparks ideas for greater systemic change. Housework becomes political when one reconsiders it as maintenance: the most essential work in society. After doing a little research it’s clear the government is acting irresponsibly and corporations are exposing service industry workers and society at large to hazardous chemicals. It is in everyone’s best interest for maintenance workers and caretakers to be using safe products and be properly compensated for the real value of their work.

Below is an image and list of products I use to clean my home, cook, and deal with sickness and injury. A lot of these tips come from my family members and friends as well as Bren Fey of Brendid.com who has great advice on maintenance.

List of products in picture:

Dish Soap (detergent) - Combine 1 teaspoon of detergent with 2 cups of water to make an all purpose cleaner. I use soap to clean counters, floors, the cutting boards, the broom (soak in bucket for 1 hr), stains in clothes, the toilet, everything. To unclog a drain, pour a solution of 4 tablespoons of soap and a quart of hot (nearly boiling) water down the drain. To catch fruit flies: put a few drops in a bowl with water and apple cider vinegar.

White Vinegar - Vinegar breaks down basic soils such as hard water stains, neutralizes odors, kills germs, and leaves no harmful toxins behind. Vinegar contains acetic acid which works well on stainless steel and laminate, but it should not be used to clean grout, natural stone, cast iron, or aluminum. Combine with water in a 1:1 ratio for most purposes. I use vinegar to clean glass and remove mold in my tub and residue from tape. It is corrosive though, so remember to rinse afterwards.

Baking Soda - a type of salt with weak disinfectant properties. I mainly use it to remove soap scum in the tub and stains from cooking pans and the oven. Combine ¾ cup baking soda with ¼ cup of soap to make an all purpose cleaner. Dilute with water if necessary. This combination also works as a laundry detergent. Store in a glass container.

Salt - Adds grit to other cleaners. If soap and water doesn’t unclog the drain, pour half a cup of salt down a slow moving drain, followed by 2 quarts of hot (nearly boiling) water. To kill germs on a wooden cutting board, sprinkle it with salt and scrub it with half a lemon, let sit for 5-10 minutes then rinse.

Hydrogen peroxide - a weak acid that quickly breaks down into water and oxygen. However, hydrogen peroxide can bleach fabrics, corrode metal, and damage wood finishes or natural stone with overuse. For household use it is sold in concentrations of 3%. To disinfect dilute 3% hydrogen peroxide in a 1:1 ratio with water, let sit for 5 minutes on the surface, rinse. Clean with soap and water prior to use. I use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect my sponges. I use it on the counters and toilet if someone gets sick. On the hydrogen peroxide label its recommended use is as a first aid antiseptic. However, in recent years “studies have found that it irritates the skin. It may prevent the wound from healing, doing more harm than good” (11). Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, this will create peracetic acid which is highly toxic. However you can mix it with soap and baking soda. If you make a combination of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, do not store it in a closed container, it can explode.

Rags in Bins - Microfiber cloths or old t-shirts. I use them to clean the counters, the bathroom, and the floors, etc. I use one bin for dirty rags, one for clean rags. If you have access to a washer and dryer, the heat will kill the germs. Use hot water and high heat on the machine settings. I often hand wash rags, then put them in the dryer. As an alternative, after cleaning them, soak the rags in diluted hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes and rinse.

1 Quart Plastic Take Out Containers- I use these for diluted solutions of cleaning products. Always rinse after using baking soda, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide.

Spray Bottles - I always have one full of soap and water and another for vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, which I rinse out afterwards so it won’t corrode the plastic over time.

Old Tooth Brushes - For cleaning shoes, window sills, and hard to reach places

Nylon Brush - This one has a removable handle. I use it to clean the tub.

Gloves - I occasionally turn gloves inside out and put them in the sun to prevent the growth of mold. I have one pair for dishes, one for cleaning the bathroom, and one for handwashing clothes and cleaning the floors in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom. I wash them with soap after I use them.

3 gallon bucket - Use for hand washing clothes, or soaking dirty objects. Empty into the bathtub. To handwash clothes: rinse first if heavily soiled, then fill a bucket with water and a small amount of laundry detergent, put the clothes in the bucket agitate, let sit for 20-30 minutes, agitate again, then rinse.

Canister Vacuum - I prefer these to upright vacuums because they have different attachments that can also clean hard to reach places. I have 50 year old Orec Cannister Vacuum, previously owned by my boyfriend’s grandmother. You can order replaceable parts if it breaks. It’s a very durable product, but If I ever decide to upgrade I would go for the Numatic Henry Vacuum cleaner.

Cast Iron Skillet - Easy to clean by wiping off excess food particles with a paper towel, no washing required. Clean off stubborn food with salt and a folded rag. Occasionally reseason by rubbing the entire pan with olive oil and a paper towel and putting it in the oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes.

Silicon Spatula Head - For many years I would just wash food particles down the sink out of laziness. Then my house got infested with fungus gnats and they started breeding my drains. Now I always make sure to clean off food as much as I can before washing the dishes. I often use a silicone spatula to do this. Never put excess oil from cooking down the kitchen drain or toilet. I pour oil into a can, freeze it, then throw it away.

Hair catcher for bathtub - This one works the best

Hair catcher for bathroom sink - This one fits most bathroom sinks

Drain catcher for kitchen sink

Frozen Peas and Heating Pad - When you strain a muscle, first ice it for 5-10 minutes, then use a heating pad for 5-10 minutes. Repeat as necessary.

Humidifier - A key tool in avoiding sickness in the winter time when the air is very dry. Often, companies discontinue production of the filter so you have to buy a new humidifier every year. I use Vic’s Warm Steam Vaporizer that doesn't have a replaceable filter.  For regular maintenance, clean every 6 weeks by letting it sit in a cup of white vinegar and water for an hour, shake, and rinse out the dirty water.

Below is some general advice from the EPA. As I said before I don’t think using disinfectants on a regular basis is really necessary, but this information is good to use as a guide in the event someone in your house or place of employment gets sick.

Never mix chemicals as a general rule. Be careful of cross contamination. After using a chemical, rinse the surface or container with water, and allow it to dry before using another product. You may not know how the two will interact.

Know the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing:

Cleaning uses a detergent or soap and water to physically remove dirt, grime and germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, though SARS-CoV-2’s outer lipid layer is dissolved by soap and the virus falls apart. Cleaning has been found to remove as much as 99% of germs when microfiber cleaning tools are used.

Sanitizing reduces the number of germs on hard surfaces or objects to a safer level - at least a 99.9% reduction. Sanitizers are registered for use on bacteria, not viruses. For food surfaces the level should be a 99.999% reduction in microorganisms within 30 seconds. Sanitizing products should state on their label the surfaces they are intended to be used on. Sanitizers are used on food preparation and contact surfaces, and mouthed toys and pacifiers.

Disinfecting inactivates 99.999% of germs on hard surfaces or objects if allowed to sit visibly wet or “dwell” on the surface for the recommended amount of “dwell” time. For use on: -changing tables -bathroom sinks and toilets -high touch areas that collect lots of germs, such as doorknobs, cabinet handles and drinking fountains. 7


1. Burkeman, Oliver, 2018, “Dirty secret: why is there still a housework gender gap?” The Guardian, February 17, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2018/feb/17/dirty-secret-why-housework-gender-gap

2. Didion, Joan, “The Women’s Movement” New York Times July 30, 1972

3. Graeber, David, 2013, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” Atlasofplacecs.com, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.atlasofplaces.com/essays/on-the-phenomenon-of-bullshit-jobs/

4. Maher, Brendan. “Lab disinfectant harms mouse fertility” Nature 453, 964 (2008), accessed January 21, 2022 from https://doi.org/10.1038/453964a

5. June 17, 2021, “Cleaning and disinfecting your home” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html

6. November 15, 2021, “Cleaning and disinfecting your facility” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html

7. Leonard, Vickie, 2020, ”Safer Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” EPA.gov, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-11/documents/leonard_r9asktheexperts_508c_english.pdf

8. 2020 “The Long-Term Effects of Disinfectants on Surfaces & Health,” Envirox, July 9 2020, accessed January 21, 2022 from https://www.enviroxclean.com/blog/the-long-term-effects-of-disinfectants-on-surfaces-health

9. “Understanding Dwell Time and Why It’s Important” Corvus Janitorial, accessed January 31, 2022 from https://corvusjanitorial.com/understanding-dwell-time-and-why-its-important/#:~:text=Dwell%20time%2C%20or%20contact%20time,or%20bacteria%20you're%20combating.

10. Zock JP, Kogevinas M, Sunyer J, Jarvis D, Torén K, Antó JM; European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Asthma characteristics in cleaning workers, workers in other risk jobs and office workers. Eur Respir J. 2002 Sep;20(3):679-85. doi: 10.1183/09031936.02.00279702. PMID: 12358347.

11.  “What Is Hydrogen Peroxide Good For?” Cleveland Clinic, December 1, 2021, accessed January 31, 2022 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-hydrogen-peroxide-good-for/